Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's husband asked a Michigan docking company for preferential treatment in order to install his boat in the water ahead of Memorial Day weekend
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on April 29, 2020
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer claimed Tuesday that her husband was joking when he nudged a northern Michigan docking company about giving him preferential treatment because he's married to the governor.

“He thought it might get a laugh," Whitmer said of her husband, Marc Mallory, as reported by The Detroit News. "It didn’t. And to be honest, I wasn’t laughing either when it was relayed to me. Because I knew how it would be perceived.”

Whitmer's stay-at-home restrictions, put in place to slow the novel coronavirus pandemic, have been under criticism from conservatives who have argued the orders are too strict. The news of Whitmer's husband making the trip to northern Michigan and urging NorthShore Dock LLC to install his boat in the water by Memorial Day weekend raised questions among critics about whether the governor and her family were abiding by the same rules she's urged others to follow.

The northern Michigan docking company said in a Facebook post last Thursday that Mallory called and asked about installing his boat before being told it couldn't be done by the weekend.

The Detroit News reported that Tad Dowker, the owner of NorthShore Dock LLC, detailed the exchange in a now-deleted social media post.

"This morning, I was out working when the office called me, there was a gentleman on hold who wanted his boat in the water before the weekend," Dowker's post read, according to the News and the Detroit Free Press. "Being Memorial weekend and the fact that we started working three weeks late means there is no chance this is going to happen."

Dowker's post continued: "Our office personnel had explained this to the man and he replied, 'I am the husband to the governor, will this make a difference?' "

Whitmer said Tuesday that the comment was made in jest.

"He regrets it. I wish it wouldn't have happened. And that's really all we have to say about it," Whitmer told reporters.

Whitmer's office previously said in a statement to the News that it wasn't going to "make it a practice of addressing every rumor that is spread online."

"There’s been a lot of wild misinformation spreading online attacking the governor and her family, and the threats of violence against her personally are downright dangerous,” the office said, before the governor confirmed the story and that her husband had traveled from Lansing to northern Michigan.

"My husband did go up to our place in Antrim County and rake some leaves and came home," Whitmer said. "So, he was there. We did not all pile in the car to go enjoy our second home although that would have been permitted."

NorthShore Dock deleted its post after it gained traction online and said the company couldn't handle the media requests coming in on top of daily work.

The company later clarified in another post that, according to them, Mallory was respectful in understanding his request could not be fulfilled, Fox News reported.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
| Credit: David Eggert/AP/Shutterstock

Whitmer, a Democrat, has become a lightning rod for conservative criticism during the widespread shutdowns officials said were needed to slow the deadly, contagious respiratory illness.

Encouraged by tweets from President Donald Trump, conservative groups pushing for the state to reopen its economy amid the pandemic have led some of the nation's most aggressive anti-shutdown protests in recent months. Michigan's restrictions have also been among the strictest in the country.

The state had more than 50,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 5,000 deaths as of Tuesday, according to The New York Times.

Protestors waving Trump 2020 flags and armed with guns gathered inside and around the state capitol building in mid-April, in some of the most tense images of the pandemic — highlighting the nationwide debate over continuing stay-at-home orders to keep suppressing the spread of the virus until there are treatments or a vaccine or reopening businesses to salvage the economy.

"LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" Trump, 73, tweeted as protests in the state began in April.

"The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire," he tweeted again on May 1. "These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."

Virus Outbreak Michigan, Lansing, United States - 15 Apr 2020
Protesters at the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15.
| Credit: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty
Protestors try to enter the Michigan House of Representative chamber and are being kept out by the Michigan State Police after the American Patriot Rally organized by Michigan United for Liberty protest for the reopening of businesses on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on April 30.

Whitmer had announced last Monday that some of the state's stay-at-home restrictions would be lifted for the northern part of the state, but urged Michiganders who didn't live in the area to stay away for now in order to avoid the virus spreading there.

"If you don't live in these regions ... think long and hard before you take a trip into them," Whitmer said last week. "A small spike could put the hospital system in dire straits pretty quickly. That's precisely why we're asking everyone to continue doing their part. Don't descend on Traverse City from all regions of the state."

Traverse City is a waterfront town in the northern glove of Michigan. Whitmer and her family live in Lansing, 150 miles away, but have a vacation property about 25 miles away from Traverse City, the News reports.

Republicans lawmakers in the state were quick to jump on Whitmer's husband's gaffe, criticizing her for asking people not to "descend" on Traverse City and the rest of the northern part of the state.

"Yet, what did her family try and do?" said Michigan state Sen. Tom Barrett.

"In the Army, we have a tradition that the leaders get in line for chow last behind everyone else in the unit," Barrett continued. "Here is the leader of our state. ... Her family is trying to cut people in line."

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.